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The 4th Commandment: Coach Through an Organizational Lens

The 4th Commandment: Coach Through an Organizational Lens

by January 26, 2015

Countdown to the Summit

This is week four of the ten-week countdown to the Conference Board’s 2015 Coaching Summit.  The Summit will begin with a pre-conference event on March 9 with the keynotes and breakout sessions on March 10 & 11.  On March 10, Dr. John Hoover from Partners in Human Resources International, co-author of The Coaching Connection: Developing Individual Potential in the Context of the Organization, will join Dr. Harris Ginsberg of Pfizer, Dr, Eric Hieger of ADP, and Dr. David DeFilippo of BNY University in discussing The Next Big Conversation – The Leader and Organization as Co-Clients.  This panel is designed to introduce and discuss the significance of keeping the voice and interests of the organization alive and involved in executive coaching engagements.

For each of the ten weeks leading up to the Conference Board’s 2015 Coaching Summit, Human Talent Network is featuring one of the Ten Commandments of Contextual Coaching.  Last week, Human Talent Network featured the third commandment of Contextual Coaching: Keep the voice of the organization present and alive.

Coach Through an Organizational Lens

Keeping the voice of the organization alive in every coaching conversation and aligned with the context of the global enterprise requires the establishment of the Four-Cornered* Coaching Coalition; a group of interested, invested, and involved stakeholders that usually includes the coach, the coaching client (aka “Coachee”), the coaching client’s manager, and an organizational sponsor—usually an HR, Talent, or OD partner.  This coalition constitutes the organizational lens.  One of the most common functions of the Coaching Coalition is to negotiate the list of feedback providers for structured-interview 360 assessments, establish the list of questions the multiple raters will be asked, and to review the reports that the coach and coaching client prepare at the beginning, middle, and end of the engagement.

Through the wide-angle lens, Contextual Coaching or coaching in the context of the organization is a holistic approach to executive coaching that balances and aligns the individual’s need for leadership growth and development with the operational and strategic needs of the organization.  It simply means to coach in the context of the organization or coach through an organizational lens in which the individual coaching client and the organization sponsoring the coaching engagement are co-clients.  In the Contextual Coaching process, none of the leadership competencies, principles, or values that the organization subscribes to are left out of the engagement – especially those requiring the hardest work.

The Coaching Coalition is integral to the Contextual Coaching experience and keeping the voice of the organization alive and active in the coaching conversation.  Some call this working group a stakeholder or collaborative coalition.  Regardless of exactly what it is called, the Coaching Coalition is critical to the success of any organizational Contextual Coaching engagement.

To better ensure coaching engagement success, the constituents and key stakeholders—who are important participants in the coaching process and your coaching client’s overall leadership development—need to be committed and willing to invest time and energy to the coaching process.  They provide insight into your coaching client’s goals as well as information throughout the coaching engagement that can deepen the experience for your coaching client, and help to monitor personal and professional development—while maintaining alignment to the organization’s cultural and strategic context.

The Voice of the Organization is kept alive and active in the coaching conversation through the coalition members and the way each of them represents and articulates a different organizational perspective or point of view in the context of the organization’s established leadership competencies, principles, or values.  In visual terms, the Coaching Coalition might look like this:
Coaching Diagram

Each corner of the Coaching Coalition can, and often does, represent a unique point of view while still representing the voice of the organization.   It’s easy to see the varied perspectives coming through.  Consider that the Coaching Coalition is discussing communication skills, for example.  The Coach might share something like this:

“During coaching engagements, I periodically restate what I hear my coaching clients saying—using other words that make it clear that we’re on the same wavelength.  Sometimes I point out when we have common experiences so my client feels more confident that I truly get where she’s coming from.  I’ve published books and articles before and she writes a lot of high-level documents.  We both know what it is to stare at a blank screen with a deadline looming. Knowing we both have that experience can help us reframe our thinking.”  Can you see the coach’s perspective coming through here?

The Coaching Client might say something like: “When I am presenting in meetings, I have a tough time keeping people focused on the problem that we’re solving for.  I’d like some help getting people to pay attention to what I’m saying; especially when they’re my peers and I can’t just order them to do things.  I really think that I’ll get things done more collaboratively, like my performance review calls for, if I can exert more influence when I’m communicating.” Can you see the coaching client’s perspective coming through?

The Coaching Client’s Manager might say something like this about communication: “I know it helps me as a manager for my people to tell me what’s going on in a clear and concise way. That not only helps me manage better, but it helps other departments work with us more effectively.  I’ll help you work on that.  As for me, I know that I need to do a better job of being clear and concise with my messaging for all the reasons I just stated. Just last week, I changed my mind about something and didn’t let everyone involved know that I had shifted gears or why.   When I am confusing, ambiguous, or inconsistent in my communication it makes it tough on my team members, our partners across the enterprise, and the organization as a whole.” Can you see the manager’s perspective and the organization’s voice begin coming through a bit more powerfully here?

The Organizational Sponsor (perhaps a Human Resources Business Partners) might say something like: “One reason the organization is investing in this coaching engagement and others is because we need cultural consistency in the way people communicate, especially leaders of teams. I have been asked to improve the ways I deliver feedback when managing coaching engagements, so this is something I’ll pay close attention to.  Even with individual contributors, it’s important for all of us to continuously improve the way we give feedback and use respectful language when we do it. For the work you do one-on-one in this department and with teams from other departments, we all need to model our leadership competencies around respectful and honest feedback.” Can you see the organization’s voice coming from a slightly different perspective here?

The more every Coaching Coalition member participates, the stronger and more comprehensive the organization’s voice becomes.  The more the organization and the individual being coached are aware and acknowledge their symbiotic relationship, the more effective both will be.  A fabulous, overarching question that needs to be regularly asked by everyone in the Coaching Coalition, especially the coach, is: “How is this coaching engagement helping our organization?”

Everyone, regardless of which corner of the Coaching Coalition they occupy, needs to ask that question regularly.



(*) Depending on the organization and their coaching protocols, many Coaching Coalitions contain more than four stakeholders.

About The Author
John Hoover
John Hoover, PhD, is a Senior Vice President at Partners International in New York City where he reports directly to Founder and CEO, Amy Friedman. John is a New York Times best-selling author, a former writer/producer of marketing projects at The Disney Company, and a Divisional General Manager for electronic publishing at McGraw-Hill. He has commercially published more than a dozen books on leadership and organizational behavior (some decidedly satirical) from Amacom, Barnes & Noble Press, Career Press, HarperCollins, John Wiley and Sons, McGraw-Hill, and Saint Martin’s Press, which have been collectively published in two dozen languages. John is a veteran executive coach, certified by the International Coach Federation and is a coaching supervisor, certified by the Coaching Supervision Academy. Along the way to his PhD in Human and Organizational Systems, he became a Marriage & Family Therapy intern, licensed by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Hoover is a thought leader and serves as a thinking partner to Human Resources and Organization Development executives to develop global organizational leadership and talent development strategies that align what individuals do best with what their organizations need most. Dr. Hoover co-created the Contextual Coaching™ framework at Partners International and teaches a new graduate certificate program he developed called “Managing the Coaching Function in Organizations” through Fielding Graduate University.

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